Recently, my blog has taken a focus on sport and concepts relating to it, so I thought it was about time I wrote a post on flying! I have now been operating the A320 out of Charles de Gaulle for about six months and I have travelled to a range of destinations across Europe including Budapest, Venice, Catania, Lisbon, Malaga, Tenerife, Krakow, Biarritz…to name a few. I really enjoy my job and still can’t quite believe I am an airline pilot!!
As a trainee cadet pilot in flight school, I never truly knew exactly what being an airline pilot would involve. I did not grow up in the era where you were able to visit the flight deck during a trip and observe the work of the two people at the front of the aircraft. All I knew as I began my commercial flight training was that I loved flying and thoroughly enjoyed every flight in the PA28 and DA42 in Jerez. For me, it was only as I started working in the flight deck of a commercial airliner that I began to understand what being in the right hand seat entails. Hence I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you some aspects I love about flying the big jets!
This is something I have always loved from the very first flying lesson I had back in May 2015. From my early landings, the one which remains to this day vivid in my mind was my first solo. When my instructor Anthony got out of G-RAAM and I taxied to the runway, it suddenly hit me what I was about to do. There I was, sitting in this aircraft, waiting for Jamie up in the tower to give me a “take off at your discretion” radio call, realising it was only me in there now. Just me. I would have to land this aircraft back on the runway at Blackbushe in about five to ten minutes all by myself! With my heart racing, I pushed the throttle fully forward and started to accelerate down the runway. I rotated, climbed to circuit height, turned downwind, did my checks and radio call, then began to turn base and prepare myself for the landing. The adrenaline and levels of concentration were similar to when I have been in the start gate of a competition “in the zone” ready to give one of my best performances. As I descended on final approach, I remember saying to myself “allez Rachelle…allez Rachou” as my coaches and team mates used to say to me back in the day. I gritted my teeth, selected the final stage of flap and began to descend through the last 200ft. I flew over the threshold, continued down, initiated the flare and did the best landing I had done to date! The happiness and elation I felt was instant, this massive smile spread across my face as I reduced the flap setting, set the throttle to full and went hurtling down the runway for a second circuit. I was hooked! These days, I still get that same satisfactory feeling when I do a really good landing and if I was a little puppy, I’d be wagging my tail to my heart’s content!
2. Take Off
The sensation you get when you bring the thrust levers forward to FLEX or TOGA on the airbus, hearing the engines spool up and feeling them produce the take off thrust setting is a very unique feeling. At your finger tips are the controls for engines which are capable of producing around 25,000 horse power each! As take of thrust is reached, suddenly you are hurtling down the runway, gaining speed and feel the forces trying to push you back into your seat as you look towards the end of the runway. Your colleague calls “V1…Rotate” and you initiate a pitch up movement on the side stick and see the nose of the aircraft peel off the runway as the remainder of the tarmac strip gradually disappears from sight. Your eyes then drop inside to the PFD and you continue with the Standard Operating Procedures for the take off and initial climb sectors away from your place of departure.
3. Working with different people every day
When I was younger, I was definitely more of an introvert but as I came to the end of my teenage years, my self confidence grew and gradually I developed the ability to talk to anyone and everyone about anything! I always try and make some sort of conversation with people I encounter on the plane, train or bus and in daily life. I even make conversation in queues at the gates when boarding begins. Being able to work with different people everyday to me is an opportunity. It gives me the chance to encounter colleagues with a whole range of backgrounds and experiences which I ask about, listen to and learn from. An important consideration is you never know who you are next to! So why not take the chance to discover who somebody just passing by in your life is? I have met some very good friends who would have just passed me by if I hadn’t spoken to them. I view meeting so many different people as an opportunity to share experiences, opinions and discuss various subjects promoting learning.
4. Working as a team
Despite my background being an individual sporting activity, I prefer working as a team as I find it far more satisfying accomplishing something with other people than I do on my own. I love being able to help each other, share the work load, delegate tasks and tackle problem solving together; it is very rewarding, especially after a challenging day.
5. Problem solving
Similar to working as a team, when you are faced with problems and you overcome them together, it is really satisfying. Flying teaches you a lot of skills, one is being able to problem solve effectively and efficiently whilst remaining calm, analysing the situation in a logical manner. This transitions into your daily life. For example, a while ago, I had just set off the washing machine and walked down the corridor, after closing the door behind me, when suddenly I heard a loud clatter. I knew exactly what had happened. I headed back to my bathroom and tried to open the door. Alas, it would not budge. The ironing board had fallen down and was lying flat between the washing machine and the door, preventing me from opening it. I immediately knew I needed some sort of stick to try and move the legs so I sourced my mop! I then video called a good friend of mine (who happens to be a pilot) and popped my phone through the door so he could see what was happening. He guided me but the leg would not move. I knew I then needed a hook. I went straight to my room, detached a hook from a coat hanger, used cling film to secure it to the mop and once again tried to move the ironing board. This time, with the guidance of my friend, I managed to lift the leg up and clear the way for the door to open. All this took about 10 – simples! It really is a great skill to have and means anything I face in life, I know I can resolve through logical steps.
6. Sunrises…and sunsets
The views you get out of the flight deck are second to none. There is something quite special about taking off from CDG and heading east early in the morning, watching the sun rise, the beautiful colours and the calmness of witnessing it from the skies. The same applies to sunsets, seeing a day disappear and fade in the twilight as the night approaches and the stars start to come out. The colours are fantastic, particularly if the sun catches the clouds with it’s beams of light.
7. Continuous improvement and personal development
I have always enjoyed learning and been enthusiastic to improve. With flying, I strive to continuously improve and appreciate looking back at my progress to see how far I have come. I like how as a pilot, I can strive to do my best and become more competent as I gain more experience, rather than having to be the best, as was the case when I was skiing. There is always some studying I can be doing whether it’s reading up on technical information relating to the A320, studying new procedures or looking at the charts for a new airport. A perfect opportunity to get out my coloured pens!!
8. Appreciating the convenience of air travel
I used to think a two hour car journey or a flight from the UK to Spain for example was long, but now to me that is no time at all. Since I have begun flying round Europe, it seems to have shrunk and thanks to my employer’s extensive network, it feels far more accessible. Whilst these first few months have very much been a case of settling into my new career, I have managed to visit Amsterdam, Manchester, Lausanne and Split. I hope in the near future I can explore Corsica, Nice and a few other European cities during time off.
9. A good work / life balance
As briefly touched on in my previous point, being a commercial airline pilot allows for a good work/life balance. If you are on early duties for example and only have two sectors, you may finish your day at 12:30 and if it’s four sectors you finish around 15:00-16:00, which means you get some time to relax in the afternoon. Additionally we tend to get 2, 3, or 4 days off between blocks of work which is really great as it allows us to spend time with friends and family. Longer term, as we become more senior, it is possible to work part time, which again assists in promoting a sound work/ life balance.
Having learnt to speak French to a bilingual proficiency at a young age, I enjoy trying to learn other languages and picking up phrases. When talking to ATC, I strive to greet and say goodbye to them in their native languages. Every now and again I might say “bon weekend” or “arrividerci” and receive something similar in return which always makes me smile. I think I can now say good day in French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, German, Portuguese and Polish!